Overall, children from China do very well. In one study in looking at children adopted into Canada from China,in which the children on average were 13 months old when they arrived home, they were doing as well as other children in Canada at three years old.(Incidentally, these children arrived home about 10/11 years ago, when orphan conditions were not as good as they are today.) The children’s receptive language skills—even at a very young age—were just as good as other children. The good news is that children’s receptive language skills—which is the ability to understand what others are saying and respond—are related to positive cognitive and social development. Also, by the time the children were about three years old, they had caught up with their peers in their ability to talk, called expressive language skills .
So how do children’s language skills relate to nutrition? Children’s ability to understand language is related to the child’s height-to weight ratio as well as the child’s head circumference.A lack of stimulation in the child’s early years in an orphanage can have an impact on physical growth. That means that your child’s growth can be delayed because of lack of stimulation and not just lack of nutrition. The factor that related most to mental development and language skills was the child’s height.In the study of children adopted into Canada, the children from China did have growth spurts, but they stayed a bit shorter than other children their age. The weight of the child seems to have had less impact; in this same study the children’s weight upon arrival home did not indicate a child’s cognitive function at 11 years of age.
So what can you do for your child? Make sure that your child is well tested for deficiencies and other infections by a pediatrician who takes your concerns seriously. One mother told me that one doctor did not think the child needed to be treated for Giardia. Not only can such an infection affect absorption of nutrients, other family members can be affected — even if your child has no symptoms. Also, discuss with the pediatrician your child taking supplements. An adequate diet may be sufficient.
Next, do not restrict your child’s food intake. Of course, you do not want your child to eat to the point of getting sick, but your child needs to get the extra protein, calories and other nutrients. Some parents seem to be very concerned that their child will become overweight. This should not be your concern, especially during the first year home. Offer your child plenty of nutritious foods.
 Cohen, N.J., et al. (2008) The Journal Of Pediatrics.2008 Aug; Vol. 153 (2), pp. 272-7. Children adopted from China: A prospective study of their growth and development. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 49 (4), pp. 458-468.